Captain benjamin page



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….A PAGE IN HISTORY……

By Orel Lea. 2009.


Officer of America’s 1st Continental Navy,

Master Mariner of the late 18th Century,

Providence, Rhode Island.

Navigator of Trade Routes to the East,

Visitor to Australia, 1792-1798,

CAPTAIN BENJAMIN PAGE.

Participating Hero of the Gaspee Incident, 1772.

Ancestor of the Moore, Lawrence and Pillars Families of NSW Australia.


In 1753 a son was born to Captain Ambrose Page, and his second wife, Alice (Smith). It was a family with strong connections to the leading figures of early Providence Plantation, RI. His mother, Mary Soule had married William Page, “a blacksmith”, possibly at Dartmouth, where many of the Soule family had settled.

Both of these parents were descendants of Mayflower Pilgrims, the Brewster, (Smith) and Soule, (Page), who had first settled in Plymouth, MA, and moved to Providence in the 17th century.


Ambrose and Alice were to have a large number of children, but many did not survive infancy or childhood. Alice sadly died at 38 years in 1772, and is buried in the North Burial Ground, between her father Daniel Smith and her 2 little daughters, Molly and Dorcas who had died shortly before her. Perhaps they had contracted one of the common diseases, like smallpox or typhoid which were prevalent at the time.
After Alice’s death he married Captain Christopher Hopkins’s widow, Sarah (Jenkes) who brought her Hopkins children to the Page home and produced another Page son in 1883, a third George Page, born in1773. Christopher had been a friend of Ambrose and was related to Commodore Esek Hopkins, under whom, Benjamin sailed in the new Navy. Another famous Hopkins was Stephen, who was a Governor, and later a signatory to the Declaration of Independence.
Ambrose Page was the brother-in-law of John Brown, (Brown University) and connections to this family, meant that Ambrose could have been involved in privateering and the “triangle” Slave Trade in the 18th Century that operated between Rhode Island, Africa and the Caribbean regions. Rum, distilled locally, was exchanged for slaves bought for the sugar cane plantations from where the molasses was then shipped up to Rhode Island. Ambrose was a member of the Assembly of RI, owned warehouses, wharves, land and slaves. In 1758, artist John Greenwood painted a famous and for the time, unusual, work: “Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam”. Ambrose is depicted with his associates and slaves, in a den, on his knees, and vomiting into the pocket of (governor) Joseph Wanton. This art work was surely a poignant protest against the slave trade, and must have caused quite a sensation at the time.
Some of Ambrose’s land holdings were inherited from William and Mary Soule) Page. A parcel of land now in the area of Benefit Street, bordered by Meeting and Court Street, had been handed down to Ambrose in 1776. Having “conveyed “this parcel for the erection of a schoolhouse (still in existence) and Meeting/Courthouse, Ambrose was able to have his children tutored. All of the Page family were literate, which is clearly demonstrated, later, by the diary/log of 16 year old Benjamin Page Jnr (1) which he wrote and illustrated in 1798/99.

The Old State House, also built on Page land, was the place where the Rhode Island Town Deputies, made an historic Declaration of Independence from Britain on May 5th 1776, 2 months before the 13 rebellious Colonies signed the “United States” Declaration.



In the1750’s and 60’s, the firstborn Benjamin Page, living in a privileged family, was formally educated and trained for the sea by his father, Captain Ambrose. Little wonder, when the bankrupt King of England began forcibly extracting taxes from his colonists in America, that discontent with the monarchy increased. John Brown, Benjamin’s uncle, would have had more to lose than most, with his wealthy family’s shipping and manufacturing trades. Brown’s ships’ captains had an effort to avoid the tax ships sent from England to intercept their cargoes, and resented the demands made for payments that they considered unjust.
In early 1772 there had been a number of incidents that had enraged the population of Rhode Island, and a situation occurred that was the catalyst for a move towards autonomy from England. A British tax ship named the “Gaspee” was lured into shallow waters when it was chasing a suspect American vessel.
Benjamin Page, at 19 years was one of the brave locals who rallied at the local Sabin’s Tavern under the urgence of John Brown. After procuring a number of row galleys, and in the moonlight, they rowed with muffled oars to challenge the “Gaspee”. The incident is well recorded as the beginning of a series of clashes with the authorities. British Captain Dudingston was injured, spilling the first British blood of the Revolutionary war, but given medical assistance. The “Gaspee” was burnt to the waterline, but her crew safely deposited on shore beforehand. The irate British were out to arrest the perpetrators for treason. Punishment at the time meant transfer to England followed by public execution…namely to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Despite many rewards offered and Investigations, not one person could be brought to trial. Naturally no-one spoke of the event, and lips were sealed for many years. Even after the Declaration of Independence, it would not have been prudent to name names. Public recognition for the last surviving patriots of the Gaspee Incident did not occur for 50 years, when the importance of the deed was celebrated in the 1826 Commemoration of 50years of Independence. Benjamin, at 73 years was feted with the remaining 3 Veterans in the Parade, riding in a barouche with a silk banner, painted with the emblem of the burning Gaspee. This banner is now stored in the archives of the Rhode Island Historical Society at the John Brown House Museum.
Nellie Page, his GG Grand-daughter, born in 1897 in Western Australia, was able to convey to her family tales of the ancestor, a “Hero of the American Revolution”, and name her only son “Page” in his honour.
Benjamin followed his father, Ambrose, in making a career at sea. The Continental Navy was established in 1776 and Benjamin became the 18th listed Lieutenant. He was involved with many of the famous sea battles of the War and was captured and imprisoned by them 3 times over a 5 year period. He sailed with and beside many of the great mariners, being very fond of Commodore Abraham Whipple, who was actually a cousin on his mother’s side.
Beside Captain Whipple, Page also sailed under some famous names in the Navy: Captain Samuel Nicholson, Captain John B. Hopkins, Jnr., Captain Dudley Saltonstall, Captain Joseph Olney, Captain John Manley and Captain Hoystead Hacker. Page was several times a Third Lieutenant and finally became Captain of the “Regulator” in 1782 before the War ended. He served on eight different ships, and at least twice with the respected Commodore Whipple. Page’s Pension Records show that he was three times a prisoner of the British: at Pentobscot, MA, with the famous Paul Revere: at Charleston, SC, with Whipple: and at the Battle of Rhode Island.
After the War, from 1781, Benjamin worked with his uncle John Brown as a respected ship’s Captain, sailing to Europe and the Caribbean, India and the Spice Islands. He married 3 times: firstly to Esther Seaver in 1781, and secondly to Ann Sweeting in 1793, in between his China Trade voyages. Considering the each voyage took about a year for the round trip, and he made about 5 from 1790 to 1799, it is a wonder that there was any time for family life! His first son, Benjamin Page, Junior (1), born in 1883, showed great promise, and of all the 6 sons, probably the closest to his father. He named the second son (by Ann), for his grandfather, Ambrose. The family lived in Providence, in close association with the extended family. Captain Ambrose had remarried in 1772, to Sarah (Jenkes) Hopkins, who gave birth to George (3) in 1773, so the children of the 2 generations would have grown up as siblings.
The American War of Independence caused repercussions in countries other than America. The British authorities were faced with the problem with what to do now with the thousands of prisoners that they would have sold into the Americas as white slaves. Prisons were overflowing in England, and prisoners were incarcerated in prison hulks on the Thames River.
The solution was to create a new penal colony in the land that Captain James Cook had explored in 1770: The “Great Southern Land”, Terra Australis or New Holland! Cook’s Charts had been reproduced and were now available to navigators around the globe. .

Captain Arthur Phillip was appointed by Britain as Governor of the Colony to be established in January 1788 when the 11 ships of the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay. The convicts and soldiers and sailors were to build a settlement that would establish the British as owners of a land that was considered “Terra Nullius”.


France at the same time may have had ideas of laying claim to this land. They were too late! Appointed by King Louis XVI, the French explorer, Jean Francois de La Perouse was amazingly just days behind Phillip’s First Fleet, anchoring in Botany Bay, before the fleet removed to Port Jackson. La Perouse was fresh from the battles against the British in Canada, and also the American War of Independence. His 2 ships had been exploring the North-eastern Asia, Alaska and the Pacific. He had been using Captain Cook‘s charts as well!
During the 1780’s Benjamin was sailing to Europe and the Caribbean and then to India for his uncle’s shipping line
Records show that he “arrived from Amsterdam” in 1784. In 1785 he commanded the brig ”Providence” to Jamaica. The “Hope” was another of his commands, for voyages to the Caribbean and India. It was in 1791/92 when this Ship, Benjamin Page being the Master, navigated to Canton, China, using a new route based on the charts of Captain James Cook in 1770, via New Holland. (Australia).
His vessel, the “Hope” was the second ship (by a month) to reach the new colony of Sydney. There were many ships that were named “Hope”, but this one well may have been the same one owned by John Brown, and mastered by Captain Peleg Wood, that was in 1796, confiscated for slaving activities and for which John Brown was famously prosecuted. The relationship between the families was strong as we see later that Captain Benjamin’s 3rd wife and Peleg’s were sisters!
Chapter 2.
On this adventure he had taken a route mainly SSE, towards South America, and then south-east around the Cape of Good Hope, down to a latitude of 44.30degs south until they reached the south Cape of Van Diemen’s Land. Bearing north they would have sailed up along what we now know as the East Coast of Tasmania, and along the coast of New South Wales. Approaching the Pacific Ocean, he would have been keeping a watch out for any sign of La Perouse and his 2 ships of French research scientists. They had not been heard about since 1788 when they sailed east from Botany Bay to continue their botanical and other scientific exploration. King Louis’ last words on the steps of the scaffold were to the effect of: “any news of the Compt de La Perouse?” This was the first of Page’s voyages to the Pacific region and east coast of Australia. The other ships he commanded were the “Halcyon” and lastly, the “Ann and Hope”, the voyage completed in June 1799.
The new opportunities for trade with China stimulated the local ship-building industry in New England at the end of the 18th Century. With the new American Government came changes to trade in the Far East. To encourage ship-building and local traders, there were new tariffs that greatly advantaged locals. The “Ann and Hope” was designed by Captain Benjamin Tallman of Portsmouth RI, and named after the owners’ (Brown and Ives) wives. She was exceptionally fast and had a gleaming copper-sheathed hull. Captain Page was appointed commander, in 1798 and his super cargo was Samuel Snow, and surgeon was Benjamin Carter. The Master was Christopher Bentley. Benjamin Page Jnr aged 16 years, was taken onboard, for experience, and wrote a “Log” or diary (which is now in the archives of the Carter Brown Library, RI) in addition to those of Carter and Bentley. The most detailed diary was written by the surgeon, Carter, and has been acknowledged as one of the earliest written records of contact with aboriginal people, where a translation of the language was made. The voyage took them down south to the “Roaring forties”, to latitude 44.30 degrees. In August and September they experienced squalls and snow, and Benjamin Jnr describes “Several large seas that broke over fore

Benjamin Page Jnr’s diary/log illustrates the coast of Van Diemans Land (Tasmania), and comments on Islands near Maria Island that “Captain Cook had not noted on his chart” on October 10th. These waters were yet to be completely chartered. The “Ann and Hope” had made the voyage in only 3 months to New Holland, and speedily (9 days) reached the heads of Port Jackson which Benjamin Jnr sketched, as well as the shoreline of Botany Bay.


They reached the Heads of Port Jackson in a violent thunderstorm on the evening of the 19th October. It would not have been prudent for the vessel to moor in Port Jackson, as there were too many convicts interested in the chance to “stow away”. A pilot vessel was sent out to escort the “Ann and Hope” to Botany Bay, and from the map by Benjamin Junior, I deduce it was near Frenchman’s Bay, where fresh water was found for their casks.
This is the same place, 10 years earlier, that La Perouse moored for the 6 weeks when they rested, having been earlier been attacked by natives at their stop in Samoa. The chaplain, Father Receveur, of the “Astrolabe” and the “Boussole” had been badly wounded, and slowly died here in 1788. His tomb became the 1st white man’s memorial in New South Wales. Today his memorial in the suburb of La Perouse is where, annually, the French celebrate Bastille Day on 14th July. This is a place that is familiar to the descendants of the Pages, as it is where June Moore and the family lived in the 1960’s…at Bare Island as caretakers of the Fort (now a National Park) and also at 37 Endeavour Avenue on Frenchmans’s Bay in the suburb of La Perouse.
The King’s Representative in New South Wales now was a Governor John Hunter. Many of the naval and military personnel in the Colony were veterans of the British-American War of Independence. By co-incidence, (then Captain) Hunter had been stationed in “the harbour” of Rhode Island during the War. The British had occupied Aquidneck Island and Newport. He related the particulars of the humorous manner of the arrest of General Prescott by Col Barton. Benjamin Carter, in his diary, quotes Hunter as saying he “well remembered having himself cautioned Prescott against sleeping in the country”! (Gossip has it that there was a lady involved). The place of the arrest was the Overing House, Portsmouth, later the home of Captain Page’s family for 40 years. One only has to wonder about the discussion, when Benjamin Page was one of the treasonous individuals whose actions in the Sinking of the “Gaspee” in 1772 had been a catalyst for the War that ensured.

Early records of Sydney note the contact made by these American visitors who were witness to a particular historical event that took place while they were in Sydney on October 22nd 1798. An aboriginal man by the name of Bennelong had been educated and taken to England. He returned to Sydney and subsequently had taken to alcohol. A type of “dual” or battle was to be fought between Bennelong, Coleby, and the Botany Bay Tribe with other native participants. Surgeon Carter watched the battle with Dr Harris who attended to the injuries that were incurred, being the regimental surgeon. Carter was a brilliant scholar and linguist and it was he that recorded a number of aboriginal words, while he was in the Colony. At the time Sydney had a population of about 1500 people, and had only been settled 10 years. Carter spent that night at Dr Balmain’s home and they called on Governor Hunter that evening.


An item of discussion was the possibility of a strait existing between New Holland and Van Dieman’s Land. Two weeks earlier Hunter had farewelled the “Norfolk”, a sloop built on Norfolk Island for Bass and Flinders, which had sailed south for an exploration of the area of 39degs, to find this suspected passage. Carter was aware that the “Ann and Hope” crew had, too, noticed the currents that gave strong indications of this possibility. It was on October 11th that ‘The Norfolk” was stopped in Twofold Bay, near Mt Dromedary, whist the “Ann and Hope” was at Maria Island. I estimate that the two ships would have passed each other about 2 days later, as the logs of both ships record gales, and were off Cape Howe (with the Ann and Hope having to drag her storm anchor) on the 13thOctober. Just as the 2 expeditions, Surville and Cook had missed each other by 30 miles off the north tip of New Zealand, 30 years earlier, Page had missed seeing the ship, “Norfolk“, as it sailed off to map the coast of Tasmania …one of Australia’s most important early voyages of discovery.
The 23rd October saw party from the “Ann and Hope” walk back to their ship, along a route that was originally a native track between the Harbour of Port Jackson and Botany Bay. Part of this “track “exists today, named “Perouse Road and Frenchman‘s Road“. On this return route they kept to the higher ground, so as to avoid the many swamps that made traversing difficult. It seems they emerged from the track some “miles” east, (perhaps at Congwong Bay,) of the mooring place at “Frenchman’s garden”.
Having topped up their firewood and drinking water, and farewelled some guests from Sydney on board, they were able to resume the voyage to Canton on October 25th. The route would have been the same as Page’s previous trips, via Norfolk Island, and north via Saipan. They sailed via Page’s Straights, named by Captain Page when he recorded them in 1792: a body of water lying between Guadalcanal and San Cristobal. In this region the rescued a desperate, marooned sailor who had been alone there for 18 months since his shipwreck.
Letters of instruction from the ship’s owners, Brown and Ives, were awaiting his arrival at Canton (now Guangzhou) in December… News from home was a worry, as Page was told that his wife, Ann, had been unwell since his departure. Taking the new China Trade items on board was a long process, as negotiations were made by Mr. Snow and Page with the Chinese traders. At the Brown family home in Providence there are currently displayed the dinner services that were purchased, including a “Brown” family monogrammed set that matches one that Captain Page had custom made for his family This is a white bone china with gold and blue decorations and still in the possession of descendants in Oregon.
The “Ann and Hope” sailed back via Cape of Good Hope, stopping at Capetown, South Africa, and by June were heading north-west towards home. In convoy with a fleet of British war ships, they avoided the pirates and Boogis (Boogymen) of the Sumba Straits; they were unfortunate in encountering a privateer from the Caribbean. A China Trade vessel was an object of prey: a treasure ship full of silks, china and desirables, which is why they were armed with 12 nine-pounder cannon. After sailing for 120 days from Canton, they were close to home, (at latitude 30degs 42N). On the 8th June, they were threatened by a vessel that displayed British “colours”, but clearly was a predator. Surgeon Carter described the preparation for battle, with all sorts of ammunition placed on deck and their vigorous young crew of 70 men, with cutlasses and pistols ready: “full of spirits and determined to spill blood, should they attempt to board us”. Shots were fired from the Schooner, a smaller, but handsome vessel, and returned by the “Ann and Hope”. The surgeon was allocated space of “uncomfortable durance…and working in profuse perspiration,” in the gun room, in preparation for dressing the wounded. His ears were “stunned by the noise of the cannon, the creaking of the gun carriages, and the jingling of broken windows”, for six hours. Finally, the schooner gave up, realizing that it had met more than its match, and the “Ann and Hope” was able resume her voyage.
They arrived back on 14th June to be told of the death in March, of Ann, Captain Benjamin’s wife. This must have been a devastating blow, but, like his father Ambrose, he quickly found a substitute! Within 4 months he had married for a third time to Sarah Read Warner, daughter of an old family friend who was dying. Perhaps Oliver Ring Warner arranged the marriage to the much older Captain Benjamin to be sure that she would be safe after his demise. He had married his other daughter, Elizabeth, off to another Captain, Peleg Wood (of the “Hope“). Through the slave trade, Oliver was extremely wealthy and left an enormous estate to both girls. His will and probate documents are listed in a leather-bound document at Newport City Hall. Sadly he passed away a week after the wedding which had been celebrated on 19th September 1799 at Newport. His son had died 2 weeks earlier, and we can surmise that they both had contracted one of the diseases that prevailed in those years.
With such an inheritance, Captain Benjamin, now nearly 50, settled down to life as a gentleman Farmer, on a beautiful estate, and retired from the sea. The home they purchased in 1803 was a large traditional weatherboard on 80 acres in Portsmouth on the border of Middleton, on Aquidneck Island, to which I referred to earlier. Known by the name of its first owner, Henry John Overing, it provided plenty of space for the large family they were to produce. A daughter, Elizabeth, had been born in 1801 and was followed by 6 more sons. The land was fertile and fenced with English-styled grey rock fences, with a good stream running through the land. The Overing House (built 1725) and land were bought in the 1970’s by multi-millionairess, Doris Duke to be preserved for the historic links with the War of Independence. This was the place that British General Prescott was arrested (in his night shirt!) by the Rebels while the Island was occupied by the British. The Page family all lived there until the late 1820’s, when all but Ambrose and his wife,( who stayed on until 1840), moved to Stark County Ohio.
Life must have been pleasant there, and the children they were blessed with all survived babyhood. Young Benjamin Junior, who had accompanied his father on the voyage to Australia, did not take to life at sea and studied at Yale to become a lawyer. In 1808 whilst on business in Georgia, he contracted a fever and died. His father was distraught, as he was his oldest and closest son. As was the tradition, the next son born to Benjamin and Sarah in 1810, became Benjamin Junior (2). Another tragedy in the family was the loss of son, William, a teenager in 1826 who was at sea. He sustained fatal injuries when he fell from the mast. The other tragedy was financial: it appears that the family fortune was lost, possibly in the sinking of a ship (which may have been the “Ann and Hope” in 1806 which sank with enormous loss on Block Island RI) in which Benjamin had a large investment. Benjamin had to apply to the War Pensions Department for a pension, claiming ill health through the deprivations he suffered whilst being 3 times a prisoner of the British during the War of Independence.
“Go West, Young Man…” This was the enticing call to open up new lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Erie Canal project opened up a waterway through Ohio that allowed vessels to travel via locks from Lake Erie down the Ohio River, into the Mississippi River and also into the region of the Chesapeake near Baltimore and Philadelphia. The opportunities for commerce were great, as easy access to the sea had been created. Farm land was used to grow crops such as wheat and sheep and dairy cattle were well suited to the lush pastures. Benjamin’s great friend and cousin, Commodore Abraham Whipple, had taken up land at Marietta in Ohio. Many veterans of the War of Independence were given/allocated “soldier settlement” farms in the lands to the West of New England. It was a great opportunity for a family with so many sons. The Pages found a wheat-growing area to settle in at Jackson Township next to Massillon in Stark
This decade was to be a time of family misfortune. Two sons, John and Oliver had become ill, and their father was helping to support them. Particularly sad was that Oliver, (who had married Margaret Caroline Troup in 1832), was not able to maintain and work the farm that he had purchased. John and Oliver possibly both had “consumption” (TB) as the illness lasted several years.
In 1833, Benjamin, aged 80 died. His young granddaughter (Oliver’s child) also passed away. Their graves are in the Canton (Stark County) cemetery. It must have been such a dreadful time for Oliver’s wife, managing the farm and with a couple of other young children and unable to pay debts. Their son William Graham Page was just 6 years old when his father, aged 33 years, slowly died in 1839. His death was listed as from “pleurisy”. His uncle John also died about the same time, closely followed by Sarah Page, his grandmother in 1840. William’s remaining sister was only 8 years old when she also died in 1844. His mother, Caroline, had little choice than to remarry, which she did in 1845, to Peter Palmer, a much younger man.
They managed to have another large family, and there was little time for poor William who must has been dreaming of an escape. What better than an overseas adventure! No doubt the stories his grandfather passed down to the family, of vast land and opportunities available in the country he had visited in the last decade of the 18th century…Australia! The fact that gold had been discovered was a great incentive, so at about 20 years of age he set off for the gold fields of Victoria, Australia.

Chapter 3.
Gold fever was at its peak in 1852, about the time that William Graham Page arrived; approximately 17,000 immigrants arrived in the month of October in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, heading for the Victorian Goldfields.


To be continued….

This story is dedicated to my mother, JUNE MOORE daughter of Nellie Page, who would have been so delighted to have made the contact with the people of Rhode Island and with those who give their time to perpetuating the memory of the Gaspee Raiders.


Thanks go to Dr Martin Lawrence, our “Family Archivist”

Dr John Concannon, webmaster of www.gaspee.org


Bibliography:


  • Benjamin B. Carter: A Journal of a Voyage from Providence to Canton in the Ship the Ann and Hope, Benjamin Page, Master.




  • Benjamin Page Junior, A Journal of the Voyage of the Ann and Hope, from Providence on July 10th 1798.




  • Tim Flannery, editor, “Terra Australis”…Mathew Flinder’s Great Adventures in the Circumnavigation of Australia.




  • John Dunmore, “Where Fate Beckons”, The life and times of Jean-Francois de la Perouse.




  • Geoffrey Blainey: “Sea of Dangers”, Captain Cook and his rivals.



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